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Is reinvention the future of business?

Strategic reinvention might not be new, but our approach to it is changing. Reinvention itself is being reinvented

RMIT Online
RMIT Online

‘Strategic reinvention’ has been a sort of pop-business mantra for several years now, but it took a global pandemic and nose-diving consumer confidence for ‘reinvention’ to go from last-ditch scramble to proactive necessity. These days, everyone’s re-inventing themselves. Pivoting is the new normal—and for good reason.

The World Economic Forum is predicting the displacement of around 85 million jobs over the next five years, with one-in-two workers requiring upskilling to face the new post-COVID, post-automation, post-recession economy. On the plus side, they’re also predicting 97 million new roles to emerge (particularly in tech-dependent sectors like machine learning, DevOps, digital marketing, data analysis and customer success).

Whatever the future of industry holds, and at this point that future looks less predictable than ever before, the only certainty is change. Broad, unstable, market-sweeping change. And under those conditions, most experts agree the companies that thrive are the ones who are most willing to let go of old ideologies and embrace new ones. The ones primed for ‘strategic reinvention’.

Some businesses realised that reinvention could mean simply expanding their service offering to cater for new, COVID-related demand.

And it wasn’t just the digitization of face-to-face experiences, either. Some businesses realised that reinvention could mean simply expanding their service offering to cater for new, COVID-related demand. Faced with an unprecedented drop in movement, for example, Australia’s 13cabs pivoted to become a delivery service. Melbourne cafes like St. Ali, who had never before strayed near a sewing machine, survived the lockdown by selling branded face masks. Other hospitality businesses, such as tech start-up Mr. Yum (a Melbourne-based food app which, before COVID, allowed customers to browse menus via a QR code) suddenly found themselves launching their own delivery service, powered by their existing tech stack, and took the fight to established behemoths like UberEats and Deliveroo.

Even online services, which you’d think would be somewhat insulated from the COVID fallout (if not straight-out advantaged) have had to reinvent themselves to stay alive. Spotify is a great example. Unlike Apple Music, Spotify had previously made most of its money through advertising targeted at free users. But when ad revenue dried up completely during the pandemic, they were forced to shift their entire business model towards original content. Within a month, more than 150,000 podcasts popped up on the platform, and Spotify began signing exclusive celebrity production deals and launching curated playlists.

As Mauro F. Guillen wrote in the Harvard Business Review, the trick was to re-think Spotify’s fundamental monetization strategy. “Spotify could become more of a tastemaker. At long last, the company is doubling down on Netflix’s not-so-secret recipe for success in a business in which copyright owners enjoy healthy margins while pure-play streamers struggle to become profitable.”

by 2025, anyone actually left with a job will need to update about 40% of their existing skillset to remain relevant

Of course, sewing face masks and investing in digital content is really more of a short term reinvention, designed to keep your head above water during the worst economic calamity in 100 years. Businesses with an eye on the future are thinking long-term, and this is where upskilling and training comes into play. The World Economic Forum estimates that, by 2025, anyone actually left with a job will need to update about 40% of their existing skillset to remain relevant, and organisations will be training over 70% of their staff to make sure they can smoothly transition into a world where AI, robotics, data analysis, DevOps and algorithmic marketing are the norm, not the hot new thing.

We’re seeing this already with some local corporate leaders, like Telstra, who recently launched a new micro-credential, co-designed with RMIT Online, called Software Defined Networking. It’s part of a $25 million investment into future-skills training for Telstra employees.

Rebecca Holden from Telstra says that businesses need to think differently about education now, and how that fits into their long-term reinvention strategy. It’s not enough to pivot your company, you need to pivot your people too. “As technology evolves so too does the need for lifelong learning. Gone are the days where we can ‘set-and-forget’ once we have a degree or diploma. This micro-credential will play an important part in making sure our workforce is ready for the future.”

If there’s a lesson to be learned in our new post-COVID world, it’s that we never really stop learning.

The McKinsey Institute has been arguing this point since at least 2017. “Of course talent is important, but a reinvention needs to involve more than just hiring a CDO or a few designers,” it says. “Talent priorities should be based on a clear understanding of the skills needed at all levels of the business. This requires investing in building relevant digital capabilities that fit with the strategy and keep pace with customers as they change the way they consider and make purchases.”

Strategic reinvention might not be new, but our approach to it is changing. Reinvention itself is being reinvented. It’s no longer an isolated pivot but an ongoing process of self-improvement and self-renewal. If there’s a lesson to be learned in our new post-COVID world, it’s that we never really stop learning.

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